Response of the Every Student, Every Day Coalition to the Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act of 2014.
On July 14, Councilmember David Grosso introduced the Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act of 2014. This legislation would prohibit out-of-school suspensions and expulsions of Pre-K students for most disciplinary reasons. Given the negative effects of out-of-school suspensions, and the Office of the State Superintendent for Education’s (OSSE) recommendation that such disciplinary practices not be used against Pre-K students, the Every Student Every Day Coalition (the Coalition) supports this legislation. However, given that Pre-K students receive less than 2% of out-of-school suspensions in the District, this amendment should be just the beginning. We urge the Council to develop more comprehensive legislation based on the Coalition’s policy platform.
What Would this Legislation Do?
The Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act would require that, beginning in the 2015-16 school year, no Pre-K student be “suspended or expelled from any publically funded community-based organization, District of Columbia Public School, and/or Public Charter School.” The legislation then includes three exceptions to this prohibition, which allow a student to be suspended or expelled if he or she:
- willfully caused, attempted to cause, or threatened serious bodily injury to another person, except in self-defense;
- possessed, sold, or otherwise furnished a firearm, knife, explosive, or other dangerous object; or
- unlawfully possessed, used, sold, or otherwise furnished, or was under the influence of, a controlled substance, an alcoholic beverage, or an intoxicant of any kind.
Should the school or program administrator determine that a Pre-K student committed any of these prohibited acts, the length of the suspension must comply with guidelines to be issued by OSSE. The legislation also requires each local education agency to submit an annual report detailing all suspensions and expulsions that occurred during the preceding school year.
Pre-K Students Receive Only a Small Fraction of Suspensions and Expulsions in D.C.
According to OSSE, Pre-K students received 181 out-of-school suspensions during the 2012-13 school year. While this is a significant number of students forced out of the classroom, the data shows that Pre-K students were among the least likely to be suspended or expelled. In fact, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions were highly concentrated amongst students in grades 6, 7, 8, and 9. Moreover, certain groups are disproportionately suspended and expelled. African American students are suspended and expelled almost six times more often than White students. In addition, students with disabilities are more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension or expulsion than students without disabilities. Thus, while the proposed bill is a step in the right direction, it would not impact the students most often affected by exclusionary disciplinary practices. A comprehensive bill is required to more fully address the District’s overuse of exclusionary discipline.
Note that the suspensions recorded in this chart are only those for the federally reported categories: violence, weapons use or possession, drug use or possession, and alcohol use or possession. It does not include the many suspensions for behaviors like “disruption of the school environment” and “reckless behavior.” Thus, the total number of suspensions for each grade is substantially higher than that indicated above. Unfortunately, because data on the total number of suspensions in all schools by grade has not been published for SY 2012-13, it is not possible for us to quantify how much the above table underreports the District’s out-of-school suspensions.
The Every Student Every Day Coalition’s policy platform to improve school engagement in the District provides recommendations that will aid in the crafting of a more comprehensive discipline policy. First, the Coalition believes that exclusionary discipline should only be used in response to behavior that poses a danger to the safety of the school community. In other words, lower-level disciplinary issues, such as disruption of the school environment or fights that do not result in injury, should be handled with school-based discipline. Unnecessary suspensions should be replaced with innovative alternatives that improve school climate and engage students. This change is quite similar to the one proposed in the Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act, but the Coalition believes that it should apply to students of all ages.
Second, to support the programs necessary to replace out-of-school suspensions, the Coalition recommends the creation of a Promoting Positive School Climate Fund. The fund would provide financial support for the implementation of non-exclusionary discipline strategies. Such funding will allow school leaders to adopt new policies that reduce the use of exclusionary practices, while increasing student engagement and success. School leaders could implement best practices utilized in similarly situated school districts, such as restorative justice, positive behavioral interventions and supports, and targeted mentoring. The Coalition encourages school leaders to involve families, students, school personnel, and community-based organizations in the process of developing alternatives. Including these various perspectives will allow for the development of better-informed informed policies and greater support from stakeholders.
The Coalition’s full policy platform also recommends the elimination of financial incentives for schools to push out students, improved data collection and reporting, and established targets for the reduction of exclusionary discipline. The Council should introduce a comprehensive school climate bill to ensure that every student in the District is in school every day, engaged in learning, and on the path to successful adulthood.
To read the full Every Student, Every Day policy platform, click here.
 See generally, Tony Fabelo et al., Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement (Council of States Governments Justice Center and The Public Policy Research Institute, Texas A&M University, July 2011), http://justicecenter.csg.org/files/Breaking_Schools_Rules_Report_Final.pdf.
 Reducing Out-of-School Suspensions and Expulsions in District of Columbia Public and Public Charter Schools (Office of the State Superintendent of Education, June 2014), 3, http://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/ OSSE_REPORT_DISCIPLINARY_G_PAGES.pdf.
 Ibid., 23. Note that this figure is based only on suspensions for federally reported disciplinary actions.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 23.
 In particular, the policy platform recommends that when a school expels a student the school should be required to pay back a portion of the per-pupil funding allocation it received to educate that student. Without such a rule, schools can effectively increase their per-pupil funding by expelling students.
 Policy Platform: Recommendations for Improving School Engagement, 7–11.